When the Church Shrinks Back

When the Church Shrinks Back

Aaron Edwards was a theology professor at Cliff College, a Methodist school in Derbyshire, England, until he lost his position for posting a Biblically orthodox view of sexuality on social media and calling some evangelicals to task for compromising on Biblical teaching.

As the pressure increases for Christians to conform to secular progressive values, dividing lines are being drawn. Will churches shrink back in fear, or will they stand firmly in faith? For the faithful Christian, shrinking back is not a Biblical option.

Christianity Under Attack

For years, Western Christians have lived in relative comfort regarding the expression of their faith, almost taking it for granted. Christianity has been the “norm,” holding a special place historically and culturally. Even in secular times, Christians have been free to worship as they wish. 

Many imagined this multicultural tolerance would last forever. It hasn’t, and we should never have expected it to. Now, some Christian beliefs (particularly those related to gender, sexuality and personhood) are even deemed “harmful.”

Whilst we’re not yet at the point of churches being shut down for reading from the Bible, it is increasingly common for younger generations to refer to the Bible as “hate speech.” Almost daily, we hear stories of Christians being muzzled, losing jobs or being investigated because they publicly expressed Biblical beliefs. 

The refusal of some Christians to capitulate to the oppressive ideological authorities of our time stems from their refusal to compromise beliefs. Our spiritual enemy rarely begins with direct persecution. He first tries slow and subtle temptation to erode the foundations of our belief, bit by bit. 

Denominational Erosion

For years, progressive campaigns in historic denominations have sought to convince Christians that affirming LGBTQ+ ideology is an act of “Christlike” compassion. One organization within Methodism claims to encourage a church “where no one is made to feel ashamed or second-class because of who they are or who they love.” 

Whilst Anglicanism has not yet gone as far as Methodism in voting for same-sex marriage, it appears to be only a matter of time. For well over a decade, it already has allowed leaders to be in same-sex civil partnerships provided they do not “consummate” their relationship. Such caveats are, of course, a naïve ruse.

The reason so many Christian leaders have drifted on these issues is that they’ve come to see Biblical sexual ethics as “unloving,” even “evil.” Such is the fruit of secular infiltration of the church. These doctrinal erosions don’t happen overnight. They occur gradually, year by year, compromise by compromise. 

It sounds like Paul’s warning in 2 Timothy 4:3—of a time “when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions”—was written for today. 

Even some evangelicals are losing their way, ceasing to be as convinced of their convictions as they once were. Increasing numbers now identify as “deconstructed ex-vangelicals,” more keen to proclaim stories of how the church has hurt them than stories of how Christ has redeemed them.

Unbiblical Bible Colleges

Some of the rot stems from evangelical training colleges, which gradually lost their way over time, like the college that fired me for expressing Biblical convictions against homosexuality on social media last year. Whilst my case may be unusual, it indicates a troubling trend. 

Most evangelical Bible colleges were set up in the 19th century to stem the tide against secular liberalism. Many have now become breeding grounds for secular progressivism, posing as Biblical Christianity. Regardless of what their websites say they believe, the leaders within such institutions are often unaware that what they now call “Biblical” would be unrecognizable by the founders of their colleges. Many colleges are now merely selling the “idea” of Biblical conviction to students, a great number of whom leave the college less convinced of their Biblical convictions than when they arrived.

I spoke at one U.K. Bible college last year where I urged the need to be not only Biblical but shamelessly Biblical, knowing full well the social stigma that now comes attached to Biblical beliefs. We must show the world we are not afraid of their sanctions, refusing to build our house on the sand. 

Recovering our Convictions

In the mid-20th century, the Anglican missiologist Stephen Neill spoke of the “burning conviction” that characterized the preachers of the early church, who spoke as “men utterly convinced.” Such preaching has also characterized the great evangelistic revivals over the centuries. We must recover such utter “burning conviction.”

I had the privilege of speaking recently at the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, D.C. I emphasized the fact that the U.S. itself would not exist were it not for Christians in times past who truly believed their beliefs and practiced them.

I also shared a passage of Scripture I had read that morning from Hebrews 10:32-39. In this text, the church is reminded of “former days” when Christians seemed more willing to endure suffering, “sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction” and having “joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property,” fully aware they had “a better possession and an abiding one.” 

How easy it is to keep quiet and try to save our own skin. How easy it is to warm our hands around the fire and disassociate ourselves from those “less respectable” Christian beliefs. But the Hebrews passage continues to exhort us: “do not throw away your confidence,” for “we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”  ©2024 Aaron P. Edwards

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

Aaron P. Edwards is a U.K.-based Christian theologian, author, academic and preacher.

Photo: Courtesy of Christian Concern

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